32nd Annual Benjamin Ide Wheeler Society Lunch

32nd Annual Benjamin Ide Wheeler Society Lunch

(uplifting instrumental music) (uplifting instrumental music) – [Carol] The University
of California was born on Charter Day, March 23rd, 1868. It would be the great
light of the Pacific, a place that rivals in
quality any institution. Through its partite mission
of teaching, research and public service, it
has given great strength to California, its
economy, and its people. Berkeley graduates set
off to shape the world from the very start, and
the growing university quickly became one of the most
extraordinary universities that the world has ever known. But the road was never easy. How can we ensure every student thrives? How do we best sustain our mission and identity as a public institution? What are the critical
issues, the grand challenges, issues of social equity and
justice facing our state, our nation and our world? We’re used to a triumphal history of the University of California, but our story is more profoundly one of resilience in
the face of challenges. Intellectual courage. We strive to foster that courage, that constant questioning
of the status quo in our students, empowering
and educating them to change the world as we’ve been changing it since 1868. Our campus is in the
midst of as challenging and important a time as any before, one that will require our
creativity and determination. I ask you to join me on this journey, which is not for the faint of heart. Only by working together will we maintain the
brilliance of Berkeley. And so I say, cheer for her,
it will do your lungs good. Love her, it will do your
heart and your life good. The outlooks, and go Bears! (audience applauding) – I wanna welcome everyone
to the Wheeler Society event. This is our 32nd year, and it’s our favorite event of the year. We’re so happy it’s rolled around again and we get to see all of you. I wanna start with a big
thank you to all of you. As you know, you are here because you’ve included a gift to
Cal in your will or trust, or you’ve made a life income
gift to benefit UC Berkeley. We so appreciate that you provided for the future of the
university in this way. Your legacy will sustain Berkeley as the extraordinary place it is. You may be asking yourself right now, who is this person on stage, and where is Kevin Crilly? So let me introduce myself. I’m Randi Silverman, and I’m serving as the Interim Executive
Director of Gift Planning. As many of you know,
Kevin recently retired. I’m not sure, but it
could very well have bee all the positive things
many of you in this room have said about retirement over the years that enticed him into it. In any case, he has taken that step, and we’re all very happy for him. The team that Kevin built in the Office of Gift
Planning is still here. And I can’t really see
’cause the lights are bright, but I’ll introduce them,
and if they’re in the room, they can just hold up their hands. Rebecca De Kalb, Melanie Keilholtz, Ray Landin, Samantha Meritt, Kimberly Vawter, and our brand new last week, Tina O’Hara. I think that’s everybody. Yep. Okay, so just a reminder, we’re gonna take questions
at the end of this lecture. So, if you have a card, write your question on the
card, and we’ll collect them. If you didn’t get a card on your way in and you think of something
during the lecture, just remember it, and then
hold up your hand at the end and one of the gift planning team members will bring you a card. And now I want to invite
Professor Knapp up, wherever you are, I still
can’t see, and introduce him. Okay, so, hi there, hi there. So, Professor Jeffrey Knapp is the Eggers Professor
of English at Berkeley, and a faculty affiliate of Berkeley’s Film and Media department. After undergraduate and then
graduate study at Berkeley, Professor Knapp taught at
Harvard for three years before returning to Berkeley in 1990. He’s received the campus’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 2002, and he’s also a recipient
of a Guggenheim Fellowship and an NEH Fellowship. Professor Knapp has chaired
the Berkeley English department and served on several campus
and UC-wide committees. Professor Knapp has
also written four books, including the multi-award
winning “Shakespeare’s Tribe: “Church, Nation, and Theater
in Renaissance England,” and “Shakespeare Only,” which Choice named an Outstanding Academic Title of the Year. And he also, his most recent, I think, is called “Pleasing
Everyone: Mass Entertainment “in Renaissance London
and Golden-Age Hollywood.” (audience laughing) Yes, very intriguing. So, please welcome
Professor Knapp, thank you. (audience applauding) – Thanks, Randi. Thank you everyone. Does everyone have a handout? Were you able to get a handout? I’m only quoting, I think,
two lines from this handout, but I thought it might be something we could talk about afterwards, the scene I’ve given you here, it’s an incredibly Shakespearean scene. But also it’s good to
have a handout, I think, it’s a good security blanket. I’m very pleased to be here
and to have this opportunity to talk about Shakespeare with you. The thrust of my talk today is going to be to encourage you to use
your historical imaginations when thinking about Shakespeare, because the chief obstacle to our understanding Shakespeare today is our historical distance from him. There’ve been a lot of changes
over the last 400 years, and one of them, and maybe the main one for us to grasp, is how much less originally hierarchical
our society is today, as compared to Shakespeare’s. More than a third of Shakespeare’s plays have a prince or king as
their title character, and in some of these plays, almost every speaking part is a nobleman. We have no king, we have no aristocracy. We don’t bow or kneel or curtsy or doff our caps to people
in authority over us, which happens all the time
in Shakespeare’s plays. We think of ourselves instead
is living in a democracy, with universal suffrage, with laws protecting
gender and racial equality, which would not have been a feature of Shakespeare’s society at all. There’s a scientific
gap between our society and Shakespeare’s, so vast, I think, that sometimes the plays can seem to us to be shrouded in
ignorance and superstition. Contemporary scholarship has by and large been embarrassed, I think,
by the pervasiveness of the supernatural in
Shakespeare’s plays. The problem is not only
all the fairies, ghosts, witches and demons that
populate his plays, but also all the prophetic dreams, the oracles that turn out to come true over the course of his plays. On the more mundane level, there’s a technological gap between our society and Shakespeare that’s apparent everywhere
throughout his work. To take an example that combines the technological with the hierarchical, it would be hard to imagine somebody today who’d be willing to trade
their kingdom for a horse. That doesn’t come up a lot for us. Shakespeare’s 400 year old language is, of course, another obstacle
to understanding him. Though it’s less of an
obstacle than one might think, and my students always find
that after a little while, it’s really not so bad
to read Shakespeare, because surprisingly, the
language hasn’t changed as much as you might think it has. Many individual words and expressions have lost or changed their meaning. There are many idioms that no longer exist that were popular in Shakespeare’s time, proverbial sayings in particular, that were the currency of talk in the time that no longer exist for us. But we’ve also lost the
taste for the kind of elaborately stylized rhetoric that was so popular in Shakespeare’s time. So, few of us when encountering a ghost would say to it, as Hamlet does, asking it, why is its canonized bones, hearsed in death, burst their cerements? Why the sepulcher, wherein
we saw thee quietly interred, hath oped his ponderous and marble jaws to cast thee up again? People don’t talk like that now. (audience laughing) Along with these social, political, scientific, technological
and linguistic differences between our society and Shakespeare’s, there’s also a more subtle
historical difference between his world and ours that’s often overlooked in
thinking about his plays. And that’s a change in the
theory and practice of theater. Thanks to the reconstructed Globe Theater in the south bank of London, many of you may be familiar with some of these differences already if you’ve visited that theater. You would know that the buildings in which Shakespeare’s
plays were first performed were staged open air, not indoors. You know that the plays were performed in daylight rather than at night. That standing room was not at the back of the farthest balcony,
but it was right up next to a projecting stage. And the theater was not
downtown as it often is for us, it was actually across
the river from London. Indeed, outside the
legal limits of London, which I hope to explain why that’s an important
feature of the theater. Visitors to the Globe now might also have learned from being there that there were no women actors on the stage in Shakespeare’s time, all women’s parts were played by boys. And it also seems to be the
case that there was very little in the way of naturalistic scenery, it’s so impressive to see a play now with the way in which
stages can be changed, backgrounds can be changed. Maybe they had a tree on the stage or a chair, that was
about it, it seems to us. And we know this from
the list of properties that still survive from a
related company of the day. But perhaps the most important
historical difference between Shakespeare’s theater and our own is one that the Globe
can’t reproduce for us. And that’s how disreputable the theater was in Shakespeare’s time. Throughout Shakespeare’s lifetime, observers of every sort
condemned the theater as depraved, obscene, and
scurrilous form of entertainment. One outraged critic
writing towards the end of Shakespeare’s career called the theater a sodom of filthiness, I’ll be quoting a lot now
from different writers. He condemned plays as nothing
but tales of carnal love, adultery, ribaldry,
lechery, murder and rapes, interlarded with 1000 unclean speeches. Another critic writing around the time that Shakespeare began his career described the theater
sarcastically as the perfect school for those who wanted to learn, again, I’m quoting, how to deceive, to play the hypocrite, to swear terror and blaspheme both heaven and Earth, to devirginate maids, to
deflower honest wives, to murder, slay, kill,
pick, steel, rob and rove, to rebel against princes,
to commit treasons. Contemporary writers also
regularly denounced the actors, or as they were usually called
at the time, the players, who were eager to present such squalid material to their audience. Here’s another writer, players are commonly the
very filth and off-scouring the very lewdest, basest, worst, and most perniciously
vicious of the sons of men. Another writer, are they
not notoriously known to be those men in their life abroad as they’re on the stage? Roisterers, brawlers,
ill dealers, boasters, lovers, loiterers, ruffians. It may be that you share
this low opinion of actors, but what might still surprise you is to hear how incessantly the moralizers of Shakespeare’s time
express the same disgust for the theater’s audiences. Its mass audiences, who
were regularly said to be flocking, hurting, thronging,
swarming to the theater. Pardon me for my iced tea. With theater tickets today as certainly expensive as they are, it’s hard for us to imagine
seeing a swarm of play goers. But Shakespeare’s time,
theater prices were very cheap, you could get into the
theater for a single penny. Our theaters are also
generally quite small by comparison to the amphitheaters in which Shakespeare’s
plays were first performed. Thanks to safety regulations, even the reconstructed Globe can only hold 1400 spectators at a time, but a number of
contemporaries report to us that the theaters of Shakespeare’s time were capable of holding many
thousands of spectators. They’re huge. Again and again throughout
the Renaissance, commentators marveled at the very great multitudes of all sorts of people who do daily frequent and
resort to common plays. All sorts means all classes, all genders, all ages of
people, men and women, young and old, high and
low, a mixed assembly. It was often complained, people said, a mixed or miscelline assembly. And so intensely stratified as the society of Shakespeare’s, however, the thought of a multitude of people inevitably conjured up the
image of the lower classes, the masses, as the people
you saw at the theater. So it was that the theater haters spoke of the great multitudes of
the basest sort of people, they said, who attended plays. Again, quoting, the very scum, rascality and baggage of the people. Another author, for a play
is like a sink in a town where unto all the filth doth run. A sink is a sink, a sink is
also a sewer, a cesspool. A very common metaphor for
the theater in the time. These critics also cautioned their readers that any respectable persons
who went to the theater would inevitably be corrupted by the throngs of degenerates
surrounding them there. And what’s more, they’d be exposing themselves to literal infection, especially from the lower classes, who were said to be attending plays even when they had running sores on them. And indeed, throughout
Shakespeare’s career, the theaters were regularly
closed because of the plague, sometimes for years at a time. So that many acting companies went under, weren’t able to survive because
of these plague closings. It wasn’t even clear to
the theater’s critics that the masses swarming to the theaters were actually there to see the plays. Instead, as government
officials in particular worried, the real aim of such throngs was to meet, it was said, under the
color of resort to plays in order to conspire against the state. From our modern perspective, we might be tempted to dismiss
the steady steam of vitriol that was directed towards the theater in Shakespeare’s time
as baseless hysteria. What the great Berkeley
Renaissance scholar, one Jonas Barish called,
the antitheatrical prejudice that crops up in every culture where the theater becomes a
major part of that culture. But the surviving evidence indicates that most Renaissance actors did indeed live on the margins of Renaissance English society, and the dramatists were often
worse off than the actors. An astonishing number of
Shakespeare’s fellow playwrights were imprisoned at some point or other for debt, felony, or sedition,
sometimes for all three. Chapman, I’m gonna name
’em, Chapman, Chettle, Day, Dekker, Field, Kidd, Massenger, Middleton, Nash, and
that’s just to name a few. The two dramatists who we now regard as Shakespeare’s chief contemporary
rivals during his lifetime, Christopher Marlowe and Ben Johnson, were both arrested for murder. Marlowe, though acquitted of the charge, was killed in a tavern
brawl three years later. He was stabbed in the eye, it was said, with his own dagger,
cursing and blaspheming with his last breath. Even Marlowe’s admirers spoke
of him as having, quote, wit lent from heaven but
vices sent from hell. Johnson confessed to the murder
for which he was arrested. He had killed an actor, Gabriel Spencer, he said, in a duel. He was saved from hanging
only on a technicality. It was a great technicality
that was abolished in the 1820s in England, so
it was listed for a long time. If you were a clergyman, you couldn’t be tried by a secular court. So, this technicality was
called benefit of clergy, you may have heard of, you
would recite your neck verse, that is you would prove
you were clerical-like because you’re able to read Latin. So, you read from Psalm 51, (speaking in foreign language)
have pity on me, God. And if you were able to do that, you were let off from a crime, once. He was acquitted therefore, but he was forced to surrender all of his possessions to the court, and he was branded on his
thumb with an M for man slayer so that he couldn’t use
that technicality again. So what about Shakespeare? It’s striking that we have no record of any difficulty that
Shakespeare had with the law, other than a story told a
century after his death, about a deer poaching
incident when he was young, back in his hometown of Stratford-on-Avon, which supposedly caused
him to flee to London, which is how he got into the
theater in the first place. He had fallen into bad company, it was said, back in Stratford-on-Avon. But for most of the contemporaries
in Shakespeare’s time, to be in the theater was to fall into an even worse bad company. Even more striking is the
fact that Shakespeare, alone among his contemporary playwrights, made a fortune from his
career in the stage. He was an immensely popular entertainer. And at the same time, he was highly regarded
by the social elite. There were far more command
performances of his plays at the Royal Court than for any other playwright of the time. So how did Shakespeare
manage to rise so far above the seemingly abject circumstances of Renaissance theater life? Given the modern estimation of his plays as the greatest literature
in our language, and perhaps any other, we might assume that Shakespeare attained his lofty status by refining the drama. Transforming the mass
entertainment of his day into art by dissociating himself and his plays from the sort of theatrical
milieu in which he worked. But the plays, I think, paint
a different picture than that. They suggest that Shakespeare
succeeded so brilliantly, not by renouncing his
connection to the masses, but rather by making better
sense of that connection than any other dramatists
of the time were able to do. Even now, we tend to
think of crowd pleasing mass entertainment as playing down to the lowest common
denominator in the audience. But Shakespeare, and on
the evidence of his plays, conceived of his work the opposite way. He viewed the multiplicity
of tastes and judgment in his audience as an incentive
to complicate his plays. We experience this
complication, most obviously, through the extraordinary
variety of characters that Shakespeare created. And especially through those characters, and there are many of them, who struggle with conflicting
emotions and motives. But just as important to
our experience of the plays is Shakespeare’s own
mixing of signals to us about how we should react to these plays. And to show you what I mean,
I’m gonna briefly discuss three famous scenes from
the great tragedies. First what’s known as the
porter scene in Macbeth. I hope some of you are
familiar with this scene. It happens in Macbeth relatively early on. Macbeth, having invited his king, Duncan, to spend the night in his home, assassinates his king while he sleeps. He hopes to have the crown
for himself, Macbeth, but he’s miserable after
having done this terrible deed. Moments after the murder, he then hears a knocking at his door, and he’s nearly overwhelmed
with guilt and fear as a result. “Wake Duncan with thy knocking,
I would thou couldst,” he says to himself. But this harrowing tragic
mood is immediately disrupted by the character who we see
going to answer the door. It’s the porter, or
gatekeeper of the house, and he turns out to be a kind of jester. “Here’s a knocking indeed!” The porter begins a long comical soliloquy by explaining and complaining to us. “If a man were porter of hell-gate, “he should have plenty
of turning the key,” this porter says. “Knock, knock, knock! “Who is there, in the name of Beelzebub?” The person knocking turns out to be another Scottish nobleman, Macduff, the man who will ultimately avenge Duncan’s murder by killing Macbeth. But for now, ignorant of Macbeth’s crime, all that Macduff wants to know is why it took the porter
so long to answer the door, and the porter confesses
that he’s a little drunk. “Drink, sir,” he adds, “Is a great provoker of three things.” Macduff, again, not knowing any better, takes the comic bait. “What three things especially
does drink provoke?” Porter says, “Marry, sir, “nose running, sleep, and urine. “Lechery, sir, it provokes and unprovokes. “It provokes the desire, but
takes away the performance.” And the porter keeps up this
bizarrely inappropriate chatter until he jokes that he
might have to go throw up. The greatest Shakespeare
critic of the 19th century, Samuel Taylor Coleridge,
was simply appalled by what he termed, the disgusting
low humor of this scene. He assumed that the episode
must have been written, he said, for the mob, by some
other hand than Shakespeare. And the scene was, indeed,
cut from performance of Macbeth for 200
years, from 1674 to 1868. But what should we make, then,
of the very similar scene at the end of “Antony and Cleopatra,” when Cleopatra decides, after the death of her beloved Antony,
that she must die too?, and so commands that a poisonous
snake be brought to her? The man who delivers the snake turns out to be another lowlife
buffoon like the porter, overstaying his welcome
with a similar series of out of key obscene jokes to Cleopatra. His famous last line, “I
wish you joy of the worm,” he says to her when he
gives her the snake. And it’s immediately after this quip that Cleopatra delivers one of the most moving and glorious speeches of the play. “Give me my robe, put on my crown. “I have immortal longings on me.” Throughout the Renaissance,
the enemies of the theater pointed to such bewildering
mixtures of tone as the absurdity produced by dramatists having to satisfy so many different and incompatible levels of
taste in their audience. According to these
critics, the playwrights, both needing and wanting to cater to the lowest elements in their audience, always ruined any majestical matters, they dramatized, with horseplay. It was inevitable. Mingling kings and clowns, it was said, against all sense and
all hierarchical decorum. Remarkably, Shakespeare never shied away from this accusation. On the contrary, he embraced it. And perhaps the best evidence
of his audacity in this regard is his most famous character, a character who is himself
a mixture of king and clown. And that’s the melancholy Prince Hamlet, a man so devastated by the
sudden death of his father and the hasty remarriage of his mother that he repeatedly contemplates suicide. And yet for all his misery, the same man engages in comical banter from his very first lines in the play. The worse things get for Hamlet, indeed, the more erratically his mood swings from tragedy to comedy and back again. Having learned from a
ghost that his father, the king of Denmark, was
murdered by his uncle, who now has become king of Denmark and who has stolen the
crown, Hamlet believes, from Hamlet himself, and has
also married Hamlet’s mother, Hamlet is overcome with rage at both his uncle and his mother. But instead of taking his revenge on them, as he seems to promise the ghost he’ll do, Hamlet perversely and
inexplicably decides to put on, as he says, an antic disposition. To act crazy, act like
a fool, like a jester. We see this disposition in action when Hamlet sits beside Ophelia as they wait for the play
within the play to begin, and then proceeds to
crack one disconcertingly vulgar joke after another to her. “You are merry, my lord,” Ophelia diplomatically comments to him. And he replies, “Oh God,
your only jig-maker. “What should a man do but be merry? “For look you how
cheerfully my mother look, “and my father died
within these two hours.” This seeming incoherence in
Hamlet’s character would, again, have come as no surprise to the theater haters
of Shakespeare’s time. No matter how high a
commercial dramatist might aim in his plot, characterizations
and language, they claimed, he could never
escape having to please the mob with tasteless vulgarity. But Shakespeare’s contemporary admirers described the unstable mixture
of high and low in his plays as instead the source
of his dramatic power. Observe his comic vein, wrote one admirer, and laugh, then his
tragic strain and weep. So when thou find’st two contraries, two different passions
from thy rapt soul rise, then you can say you’ve seen
Shakespeare to the life. Over a century ago,
the Shakespeare scholar A.C. Bradley made a striking
observation about Hamlet along these lines that
I think has received far too little scholarly attention. Let me read this long passage to you. Into this most mysterious
and inward of his works, Bradley wrote, the poet flung, as if in derision of his cultured critics, well-nigh every stimulant of popular excitement he could collect. Carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts, five deaths on the open stage, three appearances of a
ghost, two of a mad woman, two men raving and fighting
in a grave at a funeral, the skulls and bones of the dead, a clown bandying jests with a prince, marching soldiers, a fencing match, then a litter of corpses, and explosions in the first
act and explosions in the last. And yet out of this sensational material, not in spite of it, but out of it, he made the most inward and
mysterious of his dramas. Hamlet himself wishes that he could think, feel, and act more
coherently than he does. Part of his suicidal despair
stems from his inability to be as wholly consumed by
grief as his father’s death, and as wholly committed
to avenging his murder as he believes he should be. He does repeatedly vow to think of nothing else but his father. This is on lines 102, 104 in
the handout I’ve given you, if you’d like to follow along. He says, as the ghost has left and the ghost has asked
of him, “Remember me.” He says, “Remember thee,
ay whilst memory holds “a seat in this distracted
globe,” he says. This distracted globe, he
must be pointing to his head. That’s the globe that’s distracted. But his mind, he confesses, is not focused, as it
should be, on his father and revenging his father. Instead, Hamlet says, “It’s distracted.” Literally, in the time,
pulled into pieces, distracted, drawn apart
by conflicting emotions, which he feels are driving him mad, driving him to distraction. For the original spectators of the play, Hamlet’s words would have had a more uncanny resonance as well, with his weirdly overlapping reference to memory holding a seat
in this distracted globe, Hamlet seems to be gesturing to the auditorium of the Globe Theater. This distracted Globe. Why would Shakespeare want
a character to do this? Why would, at the very
height of Hamlet’s passion, would he want to call
his audience’s attention to the playhouse in which they’re sitting, and thus risk disrupting
the illusion of his play? And why, even more perversely,
would he ask the audience of the Globe to think of the
theater as itself distracted? As divided against itself, presumably, by the conflicting
heterogeneous mix of people and impulses there in the theater. The similar disruptions
in “Antony and Cleopatra” and “Macbeth” suggest
that Shakespeare believed his powers of dramatist
depended on such risk taking. Only through mixing his messages Shakespeare seems to have sensed could he persuade his audience that a fictional character such as Hamlet embodied and gave voice
to their own complexity. And let me stop there,
because I’d love to hear what your questions are and love to have the opportunity to answer them for you. Thank you. (audience applauding) Is it possible to lift lights a little so we can see–
– Yeah, can we lift the house lights so we can see folks? Thank you.
– Oh, there you are. – Yay. Hi everyone, thank you so much. We’re gonna ask you some questions now, we’re gathering, if you’ve
written a question on a card, please hand it to one of our team members who’s walking around,
there’s Rebecca there. And we will start the question
and answer in a moment. – Just trying to find a
kip in the handout myself. Oh yeah, got it right here, thanks. Maybe I can say, as we’re waiting, if we look at this scene, it might seem as if it’s
just a pun to say that Hamlet’s referring to the Globe Theater when he refers to this distracted globe, how much could that call
the audience’s attention to the theater in which the
play is being performed? But as the scene continues
and things get very strange, Hamlet begins to act madly for
the first time in this scene. He wants everyone, Horatio and Marcellus, these guards who’ve been
with him on the battlements as he’s seen the ghost, to swear that they’ll never
tell anybody what happened. And they don’t wanna
do it until the ghost, which has been departing, calls from under the stage, “Swear.” And then Hamlet makes very strange jokes about this ghost, as you’ll
see, starting around, on the second side of your
page, around line 168. Hamlet responds to the ghost, his father, his beloved father, whom he thinks of as almost a god at this point. “Ha, ha, boy! “Sayst thou so, art thou there, truepenny? “Come on, you hear this
fellow in the cellarage. “Swear.” This fellow in the cellerage,
the cellerage is the name for the part of the stage,
underneath the stage, the ghost has presumably
descended through a trap door, it is now walking around
underneath the stage, and Hamlet has begun to refer to him contemptuously as this boy, this fellow, truepenny, walking under the stage. And imagine if you were the
first audience of the play, you would think something
crazy is going on. The actor is now referring
to the other actor, the actor playing the ghost who’s walking around underneath the stage. And again, breaking the
illusion of the play as if now the actors are
talking to themselves as actors. They go to swear ’cause the ghost has walked over to this part of the stage. Then they are still refusing to swear. The ghost is moving still
underneath the stage. He says, “Swear over here,” and they say, “Oh, let’s remove,” and they walk over to
this part of the stage and then try to swear. So there’s all sorts of strange comical business going on here, again, at this, the most intense
moment of the play. “Well said, old mole,” says Hamlet, “Canst work in the earth so fast? “A worthy pioneer,” a minor. “Once more remove, good friends.” And Horatio says, “O day and night, “but this is wondrous strange!” “And therefore as a
stranger give it welcome. “There are more things in
heaven and earth, Horatio, “than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” This idea of there being more to the world than you might think has been demonstrated for the audience by the reference, the illusion breaking
references to the actor who’s moving around underneath the stage. It’s impossible for the
audience not to think of this theater as the theater now, even as they become most heavily committed to the fiction of Hamlet. And it’s that, again, mixture of illusion and reality for the audience, that mixture of comedy and tragedy that I think is so
definitively Shakespearian. – Great. So, the first question
is, how did Shakespeare learn about the many
locations of his plays? Denmark, Italy, Egypt. – Oh, that’s a good question. There’s a movie whose name I now forgot because I walked out
after about 15 minutes, it was a movie about Shakespeare’s life. It was the idea that Shakespeare
was actually a nobleman and only pretending to have the
plays written by Shakespeare whom he was paying money
to act as his proxy. And the play comes up with this nobleman, as many conspiracy theorists
have done in the past, because they’re trying to figure out how did Shakespeare know so much? How is he so smart? And it has, this nobleman is
able to learn what he learns because he has so much
money that he has a tutor for every subject imaginable, there’s a mathematics tutor, a geography tutor, a legal tutor. And so what these
filmmakers were incapable of imagining is that
Shakespeare could read books. That’s where he got it from. So, he seems to have read a lot of books. And in fact, a friend of his
who was from Stratford-on-Avon and then became a big publisher in London, a man named Richard Field, is the only contemporary to whom Shakespeare refers in his plays, he makes a joke about Ricardo
de Campo in one of his plays. So, a man he was very close to, he had a huge publishing shop and it’s presumed that almost all books Shakespeare could have wanted to read he could have read at
Richard Field’s shop. People, of course, were much
more educated in the classics in Shakespeare’s lifetime
than they are now. Children were not taught in
English in elementary school, they were taught in Latin, and all the texts were
Latin texts for them. So, everybody who just went
through elementary school had a much better
understanding of the classics than, sadly, I probably have. – Interesting. To what TV programs or popular movie would you most compare
Shakespeare’s works? – Ah, well, I think, in this book, “Pleasing Everyone,” I wrote about the theater of
the 30s, the film of the 30s. And the reason why is that I thought there was
something very similar, especially a movie, a Jimmy Cagney movie called “Footlight Parade.” It’s an amazing movie,
it’s a backstage melodrama that’s about these dancing
troupe who are putting on a show and all the difficulties they
have on putting on this show. And so it has that kind of
meta theatrical reference that I’ve just referred to in Hamlet. So a certain complexity
about the relationship between the fiction and
the reality of the work that goes into making the fiction. But also, I just think that various films have everything but the
kitchen sink in them. And that’s a very Renaissance kind of conception of the drama. T.S. Eliot thought that was
what made Renaissance drama bad, he said that it had no discipline. They didn’t stick to one line, one set of characters,
one kind of class status, one tone, they just mixed it all up. And as I tried to suggest today, that was also the criticism that the Renaissance theater
received in its own time, and a criticism, again,
that Shakespeare embraced. He thought, yes, we are mixing it all up, because that’s what our audiences are. But it’s not as if I’m
just simply appealing to all the different classes and genders in my audience by complicating my plays, everyone in the audience is listening to the same thing as everyone else. I believe Shakespeare didn’t imagine that he was only directing
certain parts of his plays to one class of people and
other parts to another. He was trying to show the
audience that the complication of heterogeneity in this
audience is in each of us. And that’s what this audience should teach us about ourselves, that’s what the plays should
teach us about ourselves. Anyway, I think 30s drama having a similar kind of
excitement about itself, that came from sound, it
came from talking pictures, matches the kind of excitement
we see in Shakespearean drama because there was also a similar technological development
in Shakespeare’s time, the development of these public theaters I’ve been talking about,
these amphitheaters. The first theaters built in Europe since Roman times were built in 1578 when Shakespeare was 14 years old. So it was a new phenomenon
in European culture to have these large theaters, to have returning audiences, to have stationary players rather than touring players taking around a play. So, it that was that
excitement of that development that I think is something
like talking pictures, and I’d go to the 30s for my comparisons. – Okay. So, we have several questions
about Shakespeare’s identity, so a couple are, do you think others may have assisted Shakespeare? Do you think he wrote the
plays as quickly as alleged? And the couple people asked, do you think Shakespeare
was perhaps a woman? – Oh, wow. So, I’m gonna get to those,
you’ll have to remind me. What was the first one again, I’ll start with that.
– One was did others assist Shakespeare?
– Yes. And there’s been a lot of scholarship and very important scholarship
in the last 20, 30 years to show how much the theater
was a collaborative enterprise. Well you think, well, that’s common sense. It’s a collaborative enterprise
because you need actors, you need managers, you need playwrights to make these things go. In fact, you need the audiences
to make these things go. And Shakespeare believes
in that collaborative relationship with the audience as well. But because there were these
new stationary theaters, because there were returning
audiences for the first time in English theater history,
you needed a lot more plays. You couldn’t just take the same play on tour around the country and so only had to work
up, say, one or two plays. It looks like there were new
plays every three to six weeks. So, people had to learn their
parts amazingly quickly, but they also had to write
plays amazingly quickly. So, collaborative playwriting was a huge feature of the theater. What’s interesting about
Shakespeare’s career is that there’s clear evidence
of collaborative playwriting at the start of his career, and then clear evidence
at the end of his career. And people have wondered why. I think Shakespeare had this huge string of successes
with the great tragedies, and he didn’t really know
how to get out of them. And it was with a play called “Pericles,” a kind of fairy tale play that he co-wrote with a
man named George Wilkins, who was a terrible person, by the way, as many of these dramatists were. He was a pimp and a wife beater. And so he wrote a somewhat samey narrative that Shakespeare took over, finished. And it’s very clear to see
Shakespeare come into the play with an amazingly Shakespearean
scene in the third act, but he seems to have felt that to get out of his tragedies, to get out of himself, he needed this co-author
to help him through. So, I think co-authorship is an important feature of
the theater, and also was an aspiring feature of the
theater for Shakespeare. What was the second one? – Well, I think you answered two there, which is the quickness
of how quickly he wrote– – Oh, he wrote very, very quickly. So Johnson complained all
the time that people said, oh, Shakespeare writes
without ever crossing out. And he said, “That’s
’cause he’s not really “thinking about it,
I’m working really hard “and I’m making my plays very learned.” There is actually a lot
of evidence in the texts of the plays that Shakespeare
did write very quickly. There’s this phenomenon called (speaking in foreign language), that means with pen running, where instead of crossing
things out as he wrote, he just wrote a new version of it right after the first version. So it’s confused people for centuries that you have what look like
redundancies in the text, which are clearly just second versions of the first lines that he tried to write. And he didn’t cross ’em out
’cause he was moving so quickly, so it’s a startling indication
of how fast he wrote. Also, the fact that the characters, there’s many mistakes in the plays, characters get the place
wrong that they’re in, they get the characters
they’re talking to wrong, and characters have different names. You may know of Doll Tearsheet in “Henry IV, Part 2,”
she’s Doll, she’s Tearsheet, she’s Hostess, she’s Whore, those are her titles in the text. And so he does seem to be making it up very quickly as he goes along. – And then there were a couple people who wondered about some recent rumors that Shakespeare was a
woman, have you heard those and what are your thoughts, I guess? – Yeah, I don’t think so, but I think what’s amazing
about the evidence we have about Shakespeare is that
there were plenty of people who liked to gossip about the theater and say terrible things about the theater. Johnson is an amazing gossip, and we have a surprising amount
of information from Johnson that stems from conversations he had with a Scottish poet, William Drummond in 1619 that Drummond recorded, in which he just lays
into all of his rivals and really, every political
figure in England at the time. So, I think that’s startling evidence that Shakespeare was Shakespeare. Shakespeare wrote the plays, because Johnson says nothing as he’s dishing the
dirt about Shakespeare, other than to criticize him and then to say, but he’s the greatest. Johnson even says that
Elizabeth was a virgin, Queen Elizabeth was a
virgin because her hymen was so thick that it was impenetrable, no matter how many lovers tried. So that’s something that could have gotten him executed if it got around. He was willing to say that, but he didn’t say anything
about Shakespeare. That to me is pretty good evidence that Shakespeare wrote
Shakespeare’s plays. We think that Shakespeare is a woman because of the startling prominence of female parts in his plays. There was no one in Renaissance
drama before Shakespeare like Portia in “The Merchant of Venice,” like Rosalind in “As You Like It.” Like Beatrice in “Much Ado About Nothing.” And this sympathy with women, this interest in powerful women is, again, a very striking
Shakespearean feature, and is also, again, a
kind of mixing of signals for the audience where now a woman should be the center of a play, especially in a play where
there’s no women on stage is a strikingly unsettling feature for a contemporary audience. – Interesting. Someone asked, did contempt for theater exist before Shakespeare’s time? – Yes, it did. I think this is, the
book I referred to before by Jonas Barish shows how these kind of antitheatrical themes crop up throughout the centuries, they were there in ancient Athens, they were there in Rome, they’re certainly there
for the Renaissance. Hypocrite was originally
a Greek term for actor, and then it got transferred
into a term for a liar, a false presenter, because
that happens in the Bible. And this indicates how people felt there was something basically
false about the theater, there was something
lying about the theater. Plato famously wanted to kick out poets from his ideal Commonwealth. The theater’s even worse, people feel, because not only does it lie to you about events and characters, but it also makes them
physically attractive. And this was a great
source of the animosity against the theater in Shakespeare’s time, where it was presumed that the theater was basically homoerotic,
it was homosexual because when Romeo and Juliet kiss, it’s two boys kissing. When Antony and Cleopatra, Cleopatra says she can’t
stop kissing Anthony, it’s a boy who’s doing this kissing. And the critics were simply
outraged by this homosexuality. Other people just thought, oh, it’s just somebody
pretending to be a girl, there’s no big deal to it. But that kind of sexual excitement that the theater adds to the lies is part of what makes it so
opprobrius to so many people. – Okay, I think we have time for one more. And you spoke about differences
between plays now and then, but there are many themes
of the human condition that seem eternal, how are
these themes, for example, greed, empathy, passion,
the same or different? It’s a big question. – That’s a good question. Well as for a good clarification, when I urged you to use your
historical imaginations, it’s not as if you couldn’t understand and be moved by a great
deal of Shakespeare without thinking of it in
these historical terms. I think you understand it
more and are moved more when you place it in
this historical context. Certainly something that’s
different for us, again, is the idea of of obedience that’s so prominent in the culture. You must be obedient to the
people in authority over you, whether they be the king or the nobility, or your father, or if you’re
a woman, your husband, and obedience is a great source of tragic power in Shakespeare’s plays. And I think that’s, obedience
is not quite the concept for us, it doesn’t have the charge for us that it had in Shakespeare’s time. So I think I would point
to these hierarchical rigidity of the culture in Shakespeare as really making the greatest
historical difference between his characters and ours. But on the other hand, I think as our own attitudes towards women and towards homosexuality in particular, to themes I’ve just mentioned, have changed and become more liberal over the last 20, 30 years, so the readings of
Shakespeare have changed, and I think are able to see
much more of the complexity of Shakespeare’s own
investment in these topics, and particularly in the power of women than probably critics were
able to see beforehand. So, changes in the
culture actually improve our understanding of Shakespeare
in some respects as well. Yes. (audience member speaking faintly) Yes, you know, it’s very hard to say, of course, what Shakespeare believed, it’s because he doesn’t
talk about himself much. Again, the great comparison is Johnson who never doesn’t talk about himself. (audience laughing) It’s amazing what we learned from Drummond of Hawthornden,
and he tells him that he spent nights dreaming of Romans and Carthaginians
fighting around his big toe. So, what a strange fantasy. I mean it certainly points to the idea of this sort of self
centeredness of Johnson, the world’s revolving around him or revolving around the
most trivial part of him, but it’s still, he calls it his great toe, it’s still a great toe if it’s Johnson’s. So, Shakespeare has
always impressed people with his seeming reticence
about his beliefs, how difficult it is to
determine from the plays what he actually believed. But I think it’s the case that you can see simply by thinking about, again, in these historical terms, how much the plays are concerned with kind of topsy turvy social relations. So, again, for the theaters’ critics, of course that’s what
they’re concerned with. It’s all about upending the social order. But Shakespeare takes
that natural tendency of the theater, as its critics see it, as an opportunity to think very hard and skeptically about
the norms of his society. Religion is probably the
hardest of the topics. My book, “Shakespeare’s
Tribe,” is about this question. I think ultimately,
Shakespeare is agnostic, that’s to say he absolutely
believes in the supernatural. I think the evidence of the plays is too great to ignore that. But he ends his career, perhaps the last speech he ever wrote which was in “Two Noble Kinsmen,” Theseus says that we just
have to leave the gods alone. They are beyond our question, he says. So we leave off dispute
with you, whatever is, is. And I think that’s Shakespeare’s view. He believes in some supernatural powers, but he just thinks we can’t
know anything about them. – So I wanna thank Professor Knapp, and sorry we didn’t get to everyone’s questions, but please join me in thanking him.
– Thank you all, thanks for the great questions. (upbeat percussion music)

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